Piroplasmosis, ponts and potagers.

The return of the Geometre

Before we signed the compromis, we had asked for clarification of the boundaries of the land on the lakeside as we would want to fence it for the sheep etc. MD and the estate agent were bemused about why we would be so pedantic, but we persisted, so the Geometre were called in (at our cost!).  In France, along rivers and around lakes, the public have right of access to 3m in on the banks. As part of our land-to-be had clearly been used as an extended access track along the lakeside, we wanted to be very clear about exactly where we could fence.  The last thing we wanted was, at some stage in the future, to have confrontations with angry French fishermen claiming that we had blocked their access.  This was to be our community and we didn’t want to upset people inadvertently.  The Geometre are the official land registry and all boundaries are registered with them.  So, they came out. Along with them were R and I,  MD, the farmer using the land and our estate agent. Also spotted on the lakeside were representatives of the Commune du Lac and of the fishermen who had come to check proceedings.  It was quite a gathering.  And it got quite heated. However, the markers (bornes), set in the ground to mark boundaries, had disappeared – covered or ploughed in over time.  The fishermen (very fiery, left wing, trade union, old school, tub thumping, jabbing finger in the chest types – you can tell that I warmed to them!) wanted new ones set in their favour (given their way they’d have been up in the courtyard!) and were very vocal, but the Geometre boys were not swayed under pressure.  They decided they had to go back to the archives to find the original paperwork.  So, we had to wait for a return visit.  That happened this week.

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Using GPS to pinpoint the original bornes, it identified the exact boundary lines.  We chose to pay extra to have the new bornes set into the ground as some of their locations were unexpected and potentially controversial. And to get them officially registered for the purchase.

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So, the land is now adorned with luminous pink posts and orange marker flags.  Dispute that!!!!!!!

 

 

The president of the commune du lac was again present, and wanted to enter into negotiations with MD – which would have delayed the purchase by several months.  So, we decided to go ahead with the purchase with the current boundaries, and then we could negotiate with the commune (or them with us) at our leisure.  It transpires that the current fence line and hedge is not the actual boundary.  It cuts in on “our” field for about 4m x 50m along the boundary (ie we lose that).

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It then extends beyond it to the lakeside (our gain) for a triangular wedge which blocks the vehicular access for about 50m for the fishermen. Hence their interest.

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Our French must be improving because for nearly 3 hours we followed most of the conversations and got the general gist.  It’s surprising how exhausting it is.  One real bonus that came out of it for us is that the boundary allowed us access to a small triangle of land with a copse on it.  One thing 4C doesn’t have is trees, which in summer, would give much needed shade for animals.  MD agreed that we could have the small copse included in the sale.  Result!

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We will have our very own dingly dell.

 

 

Ponts and potagers.

We have spent most of the last few weeks shovelling – moss and weeds off the courtyard, and the slurry runs in the barns.  Looking on the positive side, the latter will provide us with compost for the veg patch (potager), but the rest needed taking to the tip.  I think we have shifted about 30 dustbins full of stuff – and they are heavy.  I certainly don’t need to do pilates any more for my core or biceps and triceps! However, the courtyard is now looking much tidier and less like a derelict farm.

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And guess what the farmer is planting in the field beyond for next year! Our view will be full of …….SUNFLOWERS.

 

 

Imagine our surprise when this turned up in our courtyard this week!

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The farmer who has been cultivating our land will continue to farm the fields beyond us.  At the moment the access is through our courtyard and over a bridge over the field ditch into the next field.  So, he was going to go over the bridge, demolish it, and create a new bridge (pont) access from the road for him to use.  Now, we had been thinking about having a new access into our field from the road – and here was a man with a very big digger……. After a quick chat and negotiation, we agreed terms and he put a new access in for us whilst he did his.  (Forget about planning permission….)

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Our attempts at re-enforcing the pipe! (or, how to while away an afternoon….)

 

 

A bit like Winnie the Pooh with the balloon in the honey jar, Rod drove in, and back, and in again, and back out, and in………

We also made the acquaintance of another man with a digger this week.  He is a local horticulturist (small world – he and his wife come from Northallerton!) We were bemoaning how difficult it was to plant daffodils (I’d bought 4 bags of them) as we couldn’t get the spade more than 2” into the ground. Even after rain, it was like concrete, and we had only managed to plant 20m in one afternoon.  The chances of digging over a veg patch were obviously pie in the sky – not a chance!  And I’m desperate to get some raspberries in so that we can have some produce next year. However, for very reasonable terms, he said that he could do it in an hour with his little digger.  Silly not to really!  So I’m really excited to see the veg patch created – especially if I don’t have to break my back doing it!  This is what it looks like now – I’m hoping for a transformation!

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The DYI dyslexic

Rod is renowned in our family for his DIY inability.  This is a man who can hang a picture – and the wall needs replastering. (Oooh, Betty…… – if you remember that you’re aging yourself!)  So, the amount of work that we have to do ourselves in the name of saving money may prove to be a false economy.  However, with a helper (supervisor) who triple measures everything and also has buckets of common sense, how could we go wrong!  We have cleared the small barn so that our stuff can be stored, but it needed to be made safe.  That meant making shutters for the open windows, moving locks so that they snecked, and putting bolts on everything so that they could be padlocked.  I’ll let pictures tell their own story!

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In the end, not bad at all!  Beats sitting at a desk! Now to make two 6’ doors to secure the dairy!

We have also been getting quotes for the work to be done – and amending our aspirations accordingly.  One quote for the rewiring of the house was so eye-wateringly high that the swimming pool might be downgraded to a paddling pool!  We have also started getting deliveries – and my much anticipated woodburner arrived for the kitchen. As I had only seen it on line, fortunately it was every bit as nice as I’d hoped.

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Tick fever – Piroplasmosis

We have had a bit of a scare with Dippy – who, I will quickly add, in now recovering well!  One morning last week we got up and she didn’t even get up to say good morning.  She was listless, and her tail was tucked under her belly.  Even breakfast didn’t rouse her – when a Labrador is off it’s food you know something is seriously amiss.  So we got an appointment at the vets in Eymet for that afternoon.  The vet took her temperature, and Dips had a high fever.  She then took a blood sample, put it under the microscope, and diagnosed tick fever.  The rbc’s were full of Piriplasmodium parasites, injected by one of the ticks that we had removed from her.  The treatment injection was nasty, but the vet was kindly and gave Dips a painkilling injection first, but Dippy still didn’t like it – poor girl.  She also had an anti-vomiting jab to stop the ensuing wretching. However, the treatment certainly was effective, as the piriplasmocide had killed the parasites 24 hours later, but the vet said that it was lucky we had brought her so quickly.  Monty was given the first of the vaccination jabs, but Dippy has to have medicine for a week, then wait a month for her first jab for immunity.  She has been very poorly, but has slowly improved, and this is a picture of her taken today.

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She has been lucky, because the vet told us that it is often fatal in English dogs as they have no natural immunity to the disease.

 

Septic tanks and slurry pits

Warning!  If you are of a delicate disposition, this might be TMI!

One thing about the path to our new life, it is varied and at times very basic!  Since we are down at the house for much of the day, the lavatory system needed addressing.  So began an investigation of the drainage, lifting every manhole we discovered, and peering contemplatively down (no idea what we were looking for or seeing!).  We found the fosse, safely under a concrete cover – and it was full, so we have no idea how big it is.  We thought about the long bamboo pole, literally plumbing new depths, but decided that we’d get it emptied at a later date instead.  In UK our septic tank emptier came with “The poo lorry” emblazed across the cab.   Do the French have ka-ka camions? (sounds like a Boy George song intro….). Next to the fosse, hidden in the long grass we discovered another tank, again full, and only partially protected by rotting boards – thank goodness the dogs hadn’t fallen in. Then at least 4 more small “pits” with a variety of pipes.  As there is no water to the property, we loaded up the caravan water container, brought it down and set about flushing the loo, and seeing what moved, and where!  The good news was, what was festering in the loo promptly disappeared, so we were able to clean it, and the fosse rippled, but didn’t overflow.  So, as long as I keep a 5l bottle of water by the loo, we can now use it!  Luxury! How to pass an entertaining morning – eeh, we do have some fun!

One of the things that Rod is most excited about is the fact that we have a huge slurry tank as 4C used to be a dairy farm.

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Conservative estimates is that it holds about 150000l of liquid.  Again, under a concrete hatch door, it is also full.  As it hasn’t been a dairy for at least 10 years, it seems to be mostly water, certainly too liquid to be slurry still!  This we plumbed at 8’ deep – nightmares about someone accidentally falling in and drowning under the concrete, so that will be our first fencing job!  Anyway, the plan is to use it for rainwater storage, to irrigate the orchard and veg during the summer.  So, even if there is still some residual slurry lurking at the bottom, so much the better.  Free fertiliser!  Alternative uses could be to take the top off, drop in a liner, et voila, our new pool!  Or paint a huge white H on it for those who prefer to take a helicopter from the airport to their accommodation!

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Another grotty job was clearing out the bunkers in the small barn.  As they had the remnants of ratproof wire over them, we guessed they had been feed bins.  However, we soon discovered piles of white powder, lime and/or chalk, some ominous looking green powder and decayed boxes with hazard warning signs and what looked like organochlorides and organophosphates (in French). Also plastic medicine bottles with remnants of pink liquid (definitely not Calpol!) So we paused work until we had purchased face masks, then, fetchingly attired, dug it all out, carefully put it in dustbins, and, 4 bins a load, did 6 trips to the tip.

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The man at the dechetterie, who we are now on familiar terms with, greets us with a cheery grin and wave, and comes across to see what we have brought each time and have a 10 minute chat with Rod about the rugby.  This time, he declared our load to be “sheeeet”, but let us tip it, then discussed the ins and outs of last night’s match.  He might have to be on our Christmas card list!

As a contrast and break, we have also been busy visiting various suppliers and pricing up necessary items.  The shopping has now started in earnest as many items have a 4-6 week delay on delivery.  So, I justified the purchase of the red range for the kitchen and the tiles for the floors in the hope that both could be put in/down before all our stuff went in.  We also went to Agen to the huge Leroy Merlin store as the one in Bordeaux had been closed for renovation on our IKEA jaunt.

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We really do need a trailer!

 

 

 

We hadn’t ventured as far south as Agen before, but discovered that it is much nearer than Bordeaux, and a lovely drive down.  It was a clear bright autumnal morning and there were fabulous panoramic views over the Lot valley, with mist hanging over the river.

The kitchen pricing has been an interesting experience.  I know exactly what I want – and, it appears, it isn’t available in France  (or, if it is, certainly not within our budget!)  There seem to be either brand new shiny units, (in colours like grey or purple) or very traditional dark wood ones (very dated). We spent 3 hours with one kitchen planner and ended up with a quote for  E8000 for something I didn’t even like and would need to paint myself.  We also went over to IKEA in Bordeaux – there’s 6 hours of my life I’ll never get back!!!!  You can imagine Rod’s, Monty’s and Dippy’s faces at the end of that particular trip!  Knowing we had some space in our last container, I decided to see if I could order one in UK and get it delivered to the container to come over in the removals lorry.  (The granite work surface we can source here as we have found a lovely Portugese chap, a one man band, operating in a shed on the outskirts of Bergerac who imports it from his home in Portugal and cuts it to spec. ) So, in my online trawl, I discovered DIYkitchens.com.  Their reviews seem very favourable and I love the look of their painted wooden kitchens, so I set about measuring and planning, in my outdoor office.

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Note JJ’s desk next to the lab.  Except that I have exchanged the laboratory for the Labrador.

 

 

I’m quite apprehensive, because it could all go horribly wrong if any of my calculations are incorrect (I’m not known for my mathematical abilities).  Then it would be a disaster rather than an economic way of getting the kitchen I wanted.  So, fingers crossed, I handed over the money.

Last Sunday we had an interesting encounter with one of our neighbours.  We were just having a picnic at 4C, when, strolling across the field and up to the house came 2 chaps, one of which we recognised as someone Rod refers to as “Whiskers”.  We have seen him on the lane, and tootling past in his car, and we all gaily wave, and so assume he lives nearby.  He is a diminutive character with a noteworthy white bushy moustache, extending some centimeters below his chin.  Both chaps were dressed in camouflage, and had unbroken shotguns slung across their shoulders in a very casual manner.  They were with the Chasse, which seems to give them the right to roam, and, being nosey, had come to see what we were doing.  It was a very amicable chat, ranging from hunting to rugby, but those shotguns, ready to fire, did make me nervous.

Also on the Sunday, we went to Issigeac market (in the name of market research of course).  As one of the few things happening on a Sunday, even out of season, on an uncharacteristically grey day, the market was buzzing.  Issigeac is another of the mediaeval bastides and is really really pretty.  It provided a lovely backdrop to the colourful market, which filled the narrow winding streets.  Having purchased paella, being freshly cooked, for supper that night, we sat on the pavement with a coffee and chocolate and people watched. How French we felt! A lovely interlude in the midst of all the graft.  Certainly one to recommend for visitors.

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We have been really taken aback by the weather for the beginning of October, which has been stunning.  Apart from 2 grey days, we have had cloudless blue skies, with temperatures climbing steadily to the mid 20’s.  Earlier this week it was so hot at the front of 4C at midday that I had to find shade to eat and I actually burnt working outside.  Although it drops cold now at nights, these warm days have been a bonus as all our winter clothes are still in storage!

One of the things I have been pleasantly suprised about is the lack of nasty insects around.  We were concerned that we might be besieged by midges and mosquitoes, being so close to the lake, but, happily, are not.  The only issue we have had was a hornets nest in the chimney, but an expert was called in, and they are no more.

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All we had to do was sweep up the dead ones as they fell down into the kitchen.

 

 

 

Rod has been doing the spidery jobs in the barns, so, so far, I had managed to avoid any.  However, yesterday, wrapped in my fleecy dressing gown, we were having a lazy breakfast in the gite, planning the day ahead.  Out of the corner of my eye I suddenly caught sight of tarantula’s big brother creeping up over my left shoulder towards my hair.  Everything went flying – chairs, cutlery, crockery, dogs.  Credit where credit is due – for someone of my age, to move so fast and jump so high and far – and strip so rapidly…. The sudden shrieks panicked the dogs, and Rod claims to have not known I knew such language.  He was obviously trying not to laugh as he dispatched the monstrosity, and afterwards gallantly hoovered every inch of the bedroom and stripped the bedding – it must have got into my dressing gown during the night.  How I’ll sleep with images of the rest of it’s family marching over the bedding in the dark of the night…….

During the week I had to call out the breakdown to tow Gerard (Megane) to the Lauzun garage as I had a flat – a big nail obviously causing the problem.  Not having a spare in this particular model, a tow to the repairers is the only option.  (We do get value for money from our breakdown insurance). As Rod had gone to fetch his new toy, I left the dogs in the gite as I went in the tow truck.  Monty and Dippy, in defiance, staged a break-in into the spare bedroom where the dog food bin is kept.  Somehow they got the lid off and helped themselves.  Monty  had a stomach that felt like a concrete filled barrel and looked very uncomfortable.  We had no sympathy with his little groans as he put on his very sad face!

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Realising the extent of the rubbish to shift, and the nasty nature of so much of it, we decided to save Ruby’s interior and buy a trailer.  Rod went to collect it today, and very pleased with his new toy is he!

 

20151015_172743         Renee the Remorque

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Remorque-able how much we can get in it!

 

 

October 13th

unnamed Woke to -2oC and a hard frost. Brrrrr.  All winter woollies in storage.  Will have to ask how to put on the heating in the gite!

To finish the week we set to in the last room of the small barn.  Two full trailer loads to the tip later, we had gone from

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We were really pleased to discover that it also had a concrete floor which makes it much more useful.  We have also now cleared out what Ed’s calls the “Games Veranda” – definitely room for a table tennis table!

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Old enough to know better.  Young enough to still do it.

 

This is it! We have just been given the keys to Les Quatre Chemins – our new home to be in France.  We haven’t yet completed on the purchase, but have been given permission to start work on clearing the outbuildings so that all our stuff, when it finally arrives from storage in UK, has somewhere to go.  This seems a good point to start the blog.

If not now, when?

For 30 years (it was our pearl anniversary this year) Rod and I have been holidaying in France and dreaming of owning a property here.  Many winter evenings have been spent looking at houses online, many summers looking out for “A vendre” signs, followed by lots of fantasising about a new life in France.  There have been times ie following a redundancy, when we have seriously considered making the move, but the time never seemed right – the uncertainty and risks too big.  However, at 56 and 62 respectively, a series of personal and professional circumstances and events – some traumatic, some serendipitous – came together to create what seemed a “perfect storm”.  The time was now. Or maybe never.

So, after Easter, back to school and I gave a term’s notice, Rod resigned and we put the house on the market.  The die were cast.  Following the gut feeling that “it was meant to be”, we accepted an offer for our house after just 3 weeks and were thrown into a frenzy of planning. Three short months later, at the beginning of July, we loaded up the caravan, put all the rest of our worldly possessions into storage, and, along with the 2 dogs, Monty and Dippy, caught the ferry on a one way trip to France to find our new home and new life.

We had a 3 week schedule of house viewings pre-booked from endless internet research, up to 5 a day.  The itinerary was organised on a spread sheet – we had no time to waste.  The cost of storage was as much as our mortgage had been – but with no salaries anymore to fund it.  We had planned for 4 months of storage, which, naively, seemed to be tons of time! It was a hectic, exciting, tiring, and sometimes dispiriting time. Our criteria were pretty clear, but we saw some horrors – some houses I wouldn’t even put the dogs in.  Some of the online photos that we had based our choices on were up to 4 years old – a pool can get very green and overgrown in that time, and, in one case, the barn had actually fallen down since the photos. But we persevered and made new contacts, with different properties, and this is how we found Les Quatre Chemins.  On our first viewing we knew that this was where our future lay.  Not only was it set in the middle of 3.5ha, it overlooked 2 lovely lakes.  Location location location.

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Within days we had an offer accepted, and the process started.  So did our introduction to French bureaucracy.  In order to do the equivalent of exchange contracts, where we pay a deposit and then everyone is legally bound to the sale, there had to be an official inspection of the fosse septique (septic tank) with a certificate of conformity (or non conformity as the case may be) issued.  Apparently there are 2 chaps who do this for the whole of the Lot et Garonne – and they were on holiday for July and August!  So that put things back by 6 weeks right at the start.  By the end of September we had signed the “Compromis”, handed over our deposit, and had our 10 day cooling off period.  Completion was set towards the end of November.

The vendor, Monsieur D, learnt from the estate agent that we were to be staying in our caravan until we moved in on completion.  Whilst we were perfectly happy with this arrangement, he was horrified and promptly offered the use of one of his 2 gites as it was then empty.  To further add to our good fortune, he only asked for a nominal rent “as we were to be neighbours”, which, we came to learn, was typical of his kindness towards us.  Even the dogs weren’t a problem as he had a Labrador himself.  As the gite was less than 500m from Les Quatre Chemins it was ideal.  “Our lake” became our daily walk with the dogs.  It also meant that we were able to borrow the key a couple of times and go in, look around, measure up and start making plans.  We were very conscious not to do it too often in case we seemed to be taking liberties.

Then yesterday, M.D turned up with the house key and told us to take it.  He added that, since the house was now to be ours, we could start clearing out and cleaning up the outbuildings in readiness for the arrival of all of our belongings. He also asked if we would like to buy some pasture seed and the farmer would drill the 2ha which were currently ankle-breaking ploughed field. Bien sur!!! No more killing time and twiddling thumbs – we could start on our new life.

So started the shopping and a broadening of our vocab in a very niche way.  E350 of mixed pasture seed from Gamm Vert.  The plan was to  create a meadow to supply hay, whilst the animals grazed the other 1.5ha. Hopefully we could also create some garden space around the house as it had been cultivated right up to the edge.

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A wheelbarrow, dustbins, yard brush and shovel from Bricomarche.  And loyalty cards from both. Then back to Bricomarche for a 5L sprayer and some nasty French chemicals to declare war on the weeds which were starting to take over the courtyard.

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October 1

Walking boots and jeans became work clothes – what we had in the caravan was limited in terms of wardrobe choice!

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The morning was glorious, still, with a deep cloudless blue sky. And we set to.  The garage, being lockable, was the first job to clear.  It housed the huge boiler and oil tank, a wardrobe, ancient fridge, lots of rubbish, dead rats etc.  We found the tip’s opening hours online and loaded Ruby (old red Landrover Discovery) up.  Getting rid of the fridge was one major nasty smell eliminated – even worse than the dead mammals which were at least so desiccated as to be fairly odourless!  Then Rod started in the small barn, which was very dark and spidery.  So I elected to start on the weed spraying.  Another trip to the tip with everything from ancient sacks of chalk, old kitchen units, rusty metal and some indescribable yellow stuff in kilner jars which, fortunately, R couldn’t get the lids off.

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However, as R kept finding “treasures”, there were a lot of things which didn’t (and should have!) make it to the tip.  Here is a man who can go to the tip and return with more than he went with!  At least, with the size of the large barn, there will be plenty of storage for all of these obscure items “which might come in handy”. Certainly, there were as many exclamations of “ooh, look at this” as there were of “Yugh”. A case of “One bin for me, one bin for the tip!!!!!”

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Amazing how big the room looked when cleared.

 

 

Having m20151003_144844ocked Rod for his salvaging, I did keep one thing – a very lethal looking old horse drawn harrow with wicked looking blades.  Not sure what I’ll do with it, but…..

 

The only thing we couldn’t do anything about in the first room in the small barn is a metal tank, too big to budge.  The 2 of us couldn’t even lift one leg. Dipping it with a bamboo cane, it still has fuel of some sort in it, below the level of the tap.  Red diesel?  What to do with it? Not quite what I want in my freezer and produce room to be.  Any suggestions anyone?

A 5l sprayer is no weight and spraying in a sun top in 25C, looking out over the lake, with herons and buzzards as the only noise, was not really hardship.  Not quite a fair division of labour really. And to think that I could have been teaching!

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To take the occasional break, we moved beams of oak around, laying them in various places to try and envisage things like the pool, the covered terrace – (would it obstruct the view?) – and the veg patch.  Happy as pigs in the proverbial! A real feeling that this is about our future.

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Today, as a break from the grime, we went for a bit of house related retail therapy.  We bought 2 woodburners.  I’d done extensive research, both on the internet, and going round all the brico stores in a 30km radius that we could find, pricing up everything from washbasins to tiles and palm trees.  As it is now the start of autumn there are lots of offers on winter heating things and we finally found the one that we (I) wanted on offer online through our local store – another loyalty card bonus!  It won’t come as any suprise that it is a red one for the kitchen.  We are going to have to live with the beige tiles in there, and the units will be neutral, so I wanted a splash of colour.  I have already sourced a red range, but we won’t buy that just yet! (Unless it goes on special offer!)  The other was also specially reduced, until tomorrow, so it seemed a shame not to get that too.  I keep telling Rod how much we are saving.  The second is a more normal colour, black and tall and thin to fit in the corner in the living room.  The living room has no fireplace, so at the moment seems to lack a focal point – except of course for the lovely view over the lake.  But that won’t keep us warm over what we have been told can be very cold winters.